Heading Out is a roguelike road adventure channeling Vanishing Point and Howard Zinn

Driving games aren't known for great storytelling, but Serious Sim aims to change that with Heading Out.

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What do you get when you drop 1971 cult classic Vanishing Point, black and white indie comics, Grand Theft Auto, and Rogue into a blender? You get Heading Out, a car-centric roguelike about desperately racing against your own fears, crossing the country and any boundary to do so. I spent an hour or two with the game completing the first “Act,” or simply completing a run in the roguelike sense. From heart-pounding street races to choice encounters with the oddities of the western United States, it feels like Heading Out has no shortage of intense moments or colorful dabs of storytelling.

An example of racing gameplay in Heading Out
Source: Saber Interactive

You get behind the wheel (literally and figuratively) of “Jackie,” the default name of a mysterious driver who cares more about their own goals than the rules of the road or the constraints of society. The vibe here is “by any means necessary,” which includes opposing cops or any other authority figure, putting your own life on the line for pocket change, and making deliveries or doing other favors with no questions asked as long as it keeps you moving forward. All you have pushing you forward besides the consequences of your own actions is what seems like a supernatural manifestation of your own fears, a ghastly abomination comprising your regrets and mistakes. If its red haze catches up to you, you’re toast.

A boss race in Heading Out, featuring the red haze of your fears and regrets
Source: Saber Interactive

Heading Out’s gameplay loop is fascinating. It isn’t just a roguelike Mario Kart kind of deal; actually driving your car only happens during key moments, typically when it’s time to face an opponent and/or mortality itself in a white-knuckle race. Perhaps you’re outrunning cops, or simply being challenged by an upstart peer with twelve bucks in gas money on the line. Either way you’ve got limited time, limited room for mistakes, and a ticking clock ready to devour you whole. But between races, you’re mostly navigating a map.

An event taking place on the map screen in Heading Out
Source: Saber Interactive

It’s neat, because you don’t just watch your car slide along an animated atlas. You can control your speed, hold a button to hide from cops, and of course make decisions with your cash and time when you hit rest stops. Can you afford to get some sleep to keep your focus up or will you lose a couple bucks to buy a coffee and artificially hold your eyes open for a short time longer? And along the way you’ll encounter people and their problems. Do you help them and earn a reputation as a valiant road warrior or let it all burn around you as you focus on your own problems?

At PAX East 2024, I had a chance to visit the Heading Out booth and speak with Szymon Adamus, Business Development Manager at Serious Sim. I had played this build ahead of time, so I picked his brain about what I experienced instead of taking more demo time. We spoke about things like gameplay balance, roguelikes, and the various media inspirations behind the storytelling. But my major takeaway from the conversation is that Serious Sim’s overall goal was to make a driving game with a serious emphasis on storytelling.

An example of an encounter story in Heading Out
Source: Saber Interactive

The vibe around the show floor, from conversations I had as well as observations Adamus made, suggests that goal hit its target. There was a lot of buzz about Heading Out, from how cool it looked and felt to play, to how the premise, tone, and location were all pitch-perfect. As far as first impressions go, Heading Out makes a great one. With more time and access to the full game, I’m most curious as to how it all comes together. There are hints at things in the first Act that I hope lead to bigger aims and harder swings, things that almost feel harder to accomplish with this roguelike format. Unfortunately, the demo only let me go so far.

At the end of a run, successful or not, you get a summary of the experience. Each decision you made and the results of your choices (or race outcomes) are summarized and presented as your story. You even get a title based on your exploits. Then it’s time to try again, either starting from scratch or if you managed to move to the next Act, start anew with some additional modifiers to play with. The demo didn’t let me press on of course, but after finishing the first Act on my second try, I was certainly curious to see what was in store further down the road.


Heading Out is available on May 7, 2024 for PC. A code for the PAX East 2024 preview build was provided by the publisher for this preview.

Contributing Editor

Lucas plays a lot of videogames. Sometimes he enjoys one. His favorites include Dragon Quest, SaGa, and Mystery Dungeon. He's far too rattled with ADHD to care about world-building lore but will get lost for days in essays about themes and characters. Holds a journalism degree, which makes conversations about Oxford Commas awkward to say the least. Not a trophy hunter but platinumed Sifu out of sheer spite and got 100 percent in Rondo of Blood because it rules. You can find him on Twitter @HokutoNoLucas being curmudgeonly about Square Enix discourse and occasionally saying positive things about Konami.

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